Sunday, May 28, 2017

Towards Renewable Energy in Botswana

In my writings so far (collected in my blog), I have been discussing current and future energy dependence and possible renewable sources - mostly in general and based on books and articles from the global North. For me and others down here this discussion has lacked structure but that can now change, hopefully, by initiatives from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its workhorse, the Conference of Parties (COP).
Earlier, it has been a lot of flimsy reasoning and speculations by “greens and deniers”, pragmatic perma-culturists and serious researchers. Everything from 0 to 100% renewable energy proposals have been on the board. Now nations from all over the globe is discussing urgent climate change issues (as they are felt everywhere) and now it is possible to see a light at the end of the speculation tunnel. That must be the basis for continued writing and discussion – a structure to use as the basis for Our Renewable Future! The decision makers have a forum, albeit often on opposing sides of the table and now we have to include the common man, otherwise we will not reach the important goals, in my opinion. The problems in the global North are not the same we have here in the South – a bit simplified we can say that they created climate change and we are only suffering observers also hoping for a viable future.

Looking in the back mirror, we also realize that some “green” enthusiasm is needed. Ancient technology and concepts are important knowledge for the future but impossible as a single basis for it. The ecological balance in the olden times has been totally changed by the industrial revolution and we have to base a future life on the often disastrous results of that – consequently our fight against climate change, the result of earlier neglect.
To be fair, the 100% renewable energy needed for the global North to keep up their expensive life styles, is theoretically feasible but not viable in a future without cheap fossil fuels – and we have to find a way of surviving the effects of earlier neglect even if it will mean less energy per person (e.g. a proper balance between South and North). Saving electricity will be an important issue.

So let’s see how our African “global South” can achieve a decent energy basis – a question argued in the last COP meeting in Marrakech. The global North is disagreeing with a few queries/opinions from the South and that is a matter of concern. It has to do with conceptual matters, geography, pollution and finance.

Now, there is an interesting sub-board at COP – it’s labeled NDC for Nationally Determined Contributions. I have some issues to discuss and propose for our readers and delegates to the subsidiary meeting in May/17 (in Bonn) and the next COP 23 in Nov/17 on Fiji. Let me argue the following, a way of “reflecting before”:

We are since long used to the frustration that comes with big megaprojects – Morocco for instance has such a one just a short trip to the east of Marrakech called the Quarzazate Solar Plant. I guess most delegates have admired that project and I will be back on this issue in future writings about the myth of mega projects..
I start my conceptual discussion with this pictorial metaphor – picture 1 is a simple home with some solar panels and picture 2 is something like a Sua Pan covered by solar panels – in order to find a viable energy concept for Botswana:   

As intended, the illustrations span from simple roof panels to a mega-plant but there are logical steps in between. However, I like to propose that we start simple with a step by step concept, as Pic 1 indicates:

Step One - let’s create a program for improving and saving electricity by lessen the power used for individual houses and install solar panels everywhere including community service buildings. With GoB support, BPC can make it a “purchase loan scheme” like the ones they (and the Housing Corporation) already have. Raising the value of the national housing stock by increasing standards with cheap loans is in fact making a wealthy nation – often used in the Scandinavian countries.

As the BPC power is already there in most cases and needed to overcome the intermittent power problem, it seems to me very simple: some panels, transformer/converter and a battery installment is all that’s needed as long as there is the BPC backup. Consequently, it is an energy saving concept rather than a complete renewable future solution and a step towards a more decentralized provision. The savings will also be used to power the 20% of the rural villages not covered so far and upgrading of existing power grid.

Step Two could be to start medium scale solar and wind plants, scaled for small villages and urban neighborhood units – between 2-5 ha unused fields or natural impediments are needed, only. This is often a concept used in the Nordic countries I’ve seen, and the scale is acceptable environmentally due to the minimal impact. In short, this kind of planning will improve savings and also result in an improved employment situation and not a conclusion in the learned books we have been penetrating.

Furthermore. many large consumers like urban industries seldom have their roofs plastered with solar panels (to my astonishment not even for hot water) as well as most greenhouses for vegetable production that also need lots of power are seldom using solar panels. Here are more savings possible that might result in fewer large scale plants out of reach financially for us and often with negative environmental impacts). The problem here is the energy storage and we return to this later.
This medium scale, decentralized energy plants can be illustrated like this pic below and we can easily imagine an African village with a disused field near and filled with solar panels albeit this is a Scandinavian small town.
My choice of illustrations doesn’t imply that we only have a plan A (pic 1) and B pic 2) to choose between. Rather meant to indicate where we must start and where we might end. I’ll try and explain pros and cons and futher encourage our outspoken ministers, vocal on this issue of “renewable energy”.

What’s neglected in most conceptual writings about the “renewable future” is the important issue of the social inclusion of the common man, thus the education about the necessity of saving energy. So, we have to find a step by step approach here and find a long-term viability of proposed concepts as well as being able to meet costs and it means less energy per capita as savings start at home.

If we dare to get into heavy debts on behalf of our next generations, we are hand cuffing them to a forever ongoing dependency syndrome. And if the costs and debts are not met, they are forever sentenced to structural adjustments, austerity and unemployment. Please note, that the renewable future projects already implemented here and there, consequences like the ones I mentioned are a fact!

The social, common man involvement is crucial, as I see I, but I’ve noted recently that the issue is part of the BOCONGO and BCC concept for their Selibe-Phikwe project. That’s fine but it must also be part of the future energy solution for the country. It is seriously needed if the “dependency syndrome” should be avoided – more self help is preferable! And this will have impact on future energy concepts, to be sure.

The storage of renewable energy/electricity is possible in the low and medium range of intermittent power. The BBC News online pages recently had an interesting project presented – “The Cryogenic Energy Storage (CES) in an article dated 10/12/2016. In short it spells out the following:
The CES project, now leaving the experimental stage (5 MW) for reality (200–1200 MW already in the design stage) is using some electricity produced to freeze air (cleaned of CO2 – a very old technology today) into a liquid state and stored in containers of different kind. When warmed up, the liquid air expands 700-1000 in volume and will drive “steam” turbines producing electricity when solar or wind turbines are “sleeping”. Thus, the need to depend on the existing traditional grid is eliminated. A solar plant can be self sufficient in other words.

And here we have another plus for our country with rather bad waste management: Combined with waste treatment, it can be run on the electricity produced by the refuse tip/landfill! This part of the project is nowadays routine in developed countries but not here, yet. And there is more interesting news and let’s hear it from this source:

Highbrow Power’s demonstrator plant is next to Pilsworth landfill gas generation site in the Manchester plant. The large insulated tanks are between this site and the new cryogenic plant. The rubbish burning generates methane gas produced from decomposing rubbish to produce electricity, not enough to be of serious interest for large scale housing and industrial areas though, but enough to produce and heat liquid air, essential for the cryogenic process.

And there is a remarkable side effect – when putting in both electrical and thermal energy, the amount of resulting electrical energy can in some cases end up being more than the electrical energy you put in!
Those are very interesting news to us here in the global South – we can combine efforts for a better environment and, so to say, have two birds with one stone! But as a conclusion, I think some quotes from renewable energy experts are prudent. The first one from Prof M Mooiman, at UB 2015/16:

One of the axioms of the energy business is: It takes energy to get energy. We have to expend energy drilling into oil deposits, pumping, refining, and transporting the oil before we can use it as petrol to power our cars; we have to expend energy mining, processing, and transporting coal before we can burn it; even in the renewable energy field, where we have free fuel sources, such as sunlight, we have to expend energy creating the components of solar panels, transporting, and installing them. Every energy source requires an investment of a certain amount of energy to recover energy that we can use somewhere else. The trick is to be sure that the energy invested is less than the energy produced. This concept called EROI – energy return on investment (also referred to as EROEI – energy recovered on energy invested). The formula for EROI is straightforward:

EROI = Energy recovered/Energy Invested = Energy output/Energy input

One always wants the EROI to be greater than 1, i.e., one wants to recover more output energy than input energy. There are many ways to calculate the inputs and outputs, but the most rigorous way is to undertake a life-cycle analysis and compare all the inputs and outputs over the whole life of the project. The range of EROI values in the energy field is wide: for hydropower, it is of the order of 80; for ethanol from biomass, it is of the order of 5… “ 

and the EIOI coefficient for solar power, often promised by manufacturers to 10-12 is in reality down to 2-3.

Another interesting voice on the internet is Prof Ugo Bardi, a distinguished member of the Club of Rome:

“I still want to know if the following can be done and does the EROEI include it all (plus the extra energy demand I haven’t thought of):

1.   Mine the raw materials using equipment powered by solar panels.

2.   Transport and convert metal ores, eg. bauxite-aluminum, using equipment run by solar panels and in a factory built using the energy from solar panels.

3.   Make the finished panels in a factory run by solar panels, including building and maintaining the factory.

4.   Transport, install and maintain the solar panels using equipment running on solar panels.
All this is presently being done (mainly) with the energy from fossil fuels. How will it be done when they are gone?”

Let me conclude with some positive news – naturally we cannot for the future go on by hooking solar panels to buildings and build plants over useful land. We must do that only for the existing built up environment. The long term solution is to include the energy gadgets among the construction elements. Solar panels of the type we have today will be roof construction material, for instance. Its an architecture, engineering and planning issue to be solved. For instance, the bright innovator Elon Musk is already presenting roof tiles and shingles with solar collection qualities, expensive for a start as well as his battery cars but a right innovation.

We can also do that! Already in year 2000 there was a report that especially Egypt, Botswana and the Philippines were ideal for solar energy production!
Well, there we are and the discussion must continue!

Jan Wareus                                                              


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